Bas Ackermann, Emiel Martens and Babucarr Manka are the main creatives behind Gifts from Babylon. The three friends all have their own reasons but the same goal for making this film to be shown on the big screen.
Bas Ackermann is a Dutch filmmaker and creative director. He directed the internationally acclaimed documentary Welcome to the Smiling Coast (2016) together with producer, Emiel Martens. In 2007, Bas, together with some like-minded friends, set up State of Mic, with the aim to empower youth and communities in the Gambia by facilitating and teaching them in film and sound recording. Within five years, a group of fifteen young Gambians became professionals within Gambia’s rising media industry. At present, the project, now managed by Alhagie Manka, has become the leading media production house in The Gambia. State of Mic represent the new generation of African creatives who have the motivation, flexibility and creativity to make it.
Bas: ‘I find it important to give a human face to the young West African migrants who risk their lives every year. Youths who are desperate because of the lack of future perspectives and trapped in corrupted politics. For me, Gifts from Babylon shows the disillusion that many young African refugees experiencing when arriving in Europe and turning back home afterwards. These people often don’t really want to leave home and their home country, but are forced due to all the pressures they face. There is a whole new generation of Africans so ready, so creative and so motivated to enter and join today’s world, And because of my own small contribution, effort and successful project, I noticed what still lacks and what young Africans are capable of. Gifts from Babylon will show how European culture clashes with African culture and where we, as human beings, should create transparency to avoid unrealistic dreams and dogmatic fear.
Emiel Martens is a film lecturer, researcher and producer. He works as lecturer and researcher in Media and Culture Studies at the University of Amsterdam and Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR). His research interests span the fields of postcolonial film studies and critical tourism studies, with a particular focus on Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. Besides his university posts, Emiel is also the founding director of Caribbean Creativity, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting Caribbean and other diversity cinema in the Netherlands, and co-owner of media agency Gasten in je Gezicht. As such, he has worked on various film productions in the capacity of story editor and (executive) producer, including Welcome to the Smiling Coast, the project that kicked off his collaboration with Bas.
Emiel: ‘Gifts from Babylon is the logical follow-up of Welcome to the Smiling Coast. While our documentary gave insight into the real lives of young West Africans and how they cope with their fears and dreams, Gifts from Babylon will, as a fiction film, enable us to create a more compelling story with emotional resonance and visual sensitivity. In times of much negative imaging around the European refugee crisis, we tried to give a more human face of Africa and Africans in Welcome to the Smiling Coast, and with Gifts from Babylon we want to take it one step further, showing the ‘backway’ – and its possible causes and consequences – from the inside out and on an individual, emotional level. We made Welcome to the Smiling Coast with a minimum budget and without any form of subsidy – and it is now time to take it to the next level. With all the experience, knowledge and network we have built by making our documentary, we are more than ready for our first feature film together.’
State of Mic is an independent media production house in The Gambia. Since its establishment in 2007, it has contributed to the country’s emerging media industry by increasing the level and quality of audiovisual and multimedia productions in the country. In addition, State of Mic played a crucial role in the media coverage surrounding the 2016 elections and its aftermath. Alhagie Manka, managing director of State of Mic, served as the main photographer and video producer of president-elect Adama Barrow throughout this period. As such, he was in charge of all the news updates during this turbulent and vital period of political change. Alhagie will serve as co-producer of Gifts from Babylon. Alhagie’s brother, Babucar Manka, is creative manager of State of Mic and will serve as the film’s co-director. With their experience and engagement, State of Mic will function as the local production company for the pre-production and principal photography of Gifts from Babylon.
Babukar: ‘Gifts from Babylon is inspired from the stories of my childhood friends. Those that are still hoping for means to finance their journey, those that lived (or died) from torments of the journey and those that are still trying to integrate themselves into the realities of Europe. Living in The Gambia, I see the dreams that attract our youths to the perilous journeys to Europe through desert and sea every day. I live in a ghetto environment with youths that look at the daily stories of deaths and sorrows with this journey and still hope for light at the end of the tunnel. Beyond the tormenting seas lies a land filled with opportunities. Frustrated by the pressures from family, lack of employment, and poor youth development schemes, they hope for the life they see from the few that made it through this journey. Gifts from Babylon portrays the life that follows after a long journey of chasing the European dream. The past that is still hunting, the present that is not in consonance with what you pictured, and the continuous struggle of keeping up with life in the Smiling Coast after the lessons from the so-called promised land.’
A local cast of known Gambian musicians, trained drama actors and local talents will be used to secure the authenticity, creativity, and cultural responsibility of Gifts to Babylon. These musicians and actors will be largely drawn from the State of Mic network and particularly the cast of our previous film project, Welcome to the Smiling Coast, among who the musicians Royal Messenger and Jah Michael and some of the tourism workers featuring in the documentary. This local cast will be complimented by 2-3 professional actors from outside The Gambia.